5829/Emerald Continuation

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Emerald Continuation
Date of Scene: 06 May 2018
Location: Shadow Tower
Synopsis: Pending
Cast of Characters: 6316, 6320, Arthur Lowell, 571, Sanary Rondel, Reiji Arisu, 518

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    Lucky for Arthur (at the moment), going into the grey door, third of the three, means that Skel. E. Ton has already been packed away with the rubble, and someone has vultured his gun, so there's really little sign that he was ever actually pinned under all that rubble Staren has somewhat squeezed aside. He still sees the drawing of the weird horn-like object that someone had left next to the gross chompy door, as do Touta and Sanary alongside them.

    After the bug wanders off through one of those doors, apparently sensing something about it and letting it through (sadly, it remains unhelpfully stoic in the face of anyone who isn't an insect, by whatever discriminatory criteria it operates), the group really is just left with the slightly grosser, more sphincter-y doors to the right and left, of which a couple of people have already picked one and headed through. This one seems to have no compunctions about opening for humans et. al. It creaks open with a thankfully dry and crackly, rather than wet and squishy, sound, exposing them to-

    Another egg room. It's actually identical in layout, with another 'public' door across from them, and another 'mandible' door to the same side. The main structural difference is that it's attached at an angle. Basic spatial awareness can put two and two together to figure out that these egg areas are forming a very wide ring around the more central areas which the mandible doors are likely guarding access to. Assuming the hive goes up and down, it may even be 'spherical', in a sense, which makes absolutely /no/ sense because what kind of creature keeps all of its vulnerable young at the absolute periphery of its nest instead of guarded deep within?

    Just as before, these gross, webbed, semi-hardened jellysacs bear new permutations of subtly malformed young in various periods of development, but unlike before, it is more populated from the get-go. Numbers of much smaller, bright orange bugs, more like the size of a cat, mill around the floor, carrying around shards of hatched eggs and chewing up webbing. In the midst of them is one on the opposite side of the size spectrum --large as a horse, easily-- and bone white in colour, built more like a colossal crab more than a locust, and studded with lethal, twisting horns. Its left side appears to be slightly larger and spikier than its right, in a non-evolutionarily intended sort of way.

    Aside from the /extreme/ morphological differences for what is (probably? It might actually not be) a single species, the caste structure common to eusocial insects is obvious at least. The little things are cleaners, and the big thing is a soldier. One can tell it's a soldier because the first thing it does is charge head first into the group like a spiked battering ram, aiming to impale one or more individuals against the hive wall. It's fast and heavy, so that is a very likely outcome for someone standing around.

Hemlock (6320) has posed:
Sanary's healing magic is much appreciated, mending broken bones and allowing Hemlock to breathe freely again, even if he's still decenty wounded from the strike. Standing up straight and grabbing his fiddle before going through the fleshy door, he stays behind the melee combatants of the group, nodding in thanks towards Sanary. "I appreciate it."

As he spots the bugs, Hemlock frowns, and puts the fiddle's bow to the strings, especially as he sees the horse-sized bug. "Come, let this be a song of victory." The folksy fiddling is sort of a medley, a fast-paced and frenetic song as Hemlock moves to stay behind Sanary and boost himself and the group with his magic. Their abilities in combat boost, granting them faster reaction and dodge times, allowing them to move faster for the purposes of dodging and countering the creature.

Hemlock's being very careful about not getting hit, trying to avoid the creature, as it'd probably break him in half, so the boosted reaction times and speed come much in handy for his dodging purposes. "I'll allow you all to take care of the slaying. I use more indirect means."

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur speaks to Yuuki as they move through, actually surprisingly not averse to monster corpses. Thank goodness the skeleton is dealt with! "Not a BAD GUESS, homie. I mean, I don't know NERD SHIT, but I can get that HELLA INTUITION on this. This place got APPARATUS for some REALM CAPTURE stuff. It has a natural SPACE INTAKE, so makes sense that something about UNIFICATION got things GUNKED UP. Like pouring something besides WATER into your COOLANT VALVE, shit goes WEIRD and BAD."

    Arthur keeps heading forward with an easygoing stride and a stylish swagger to his steps. "I think, long as we find what got TAKEN IN that let someone GET OUT, then we can find what's gotta be FILTERED. Maybe the big dumb motherfucker ATE A WARPGATE or whatever. Eyes out for real." He gives her a wink and a grinning double-fingerguns, and then utterly fails to take his own advice as a huge fucking soldier insect crashes into him headfirst, spearing him brutally in the gut. "HUUUURGH!"

    Then Hemlock's music surges into him, sharpening his already lightning-quick reflexes for a counterattack! "Oh no you DON'T you LITTLE MOTHERFUCKER, you don't move MEEEEEE!" He uses the grip provided by his ribs on the horns, and wraps both hands around the main spikes, lifting up with profound gravitational magic and trying to hoist the thing and SLAM it onto its back behind him with brutally overcharged force, like a weird wrestling or judo maneuver performed on a bug. "I do that MOVING around here! GET SOME, you INSECTOID SHIT! Bring down this WHOLE HIVE ON ME, I don't give a FUCK! YYYYEEEEAAAAAAHHHH!!!" He suffers a chunk of Health Vial loss anew, but that seems well worth it for the chance to stun, disable, and hold the creature.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    There is ripping, and there is tearing. Maaka does both before the bugs finally die, reloading her pistol and holstering it as well as her knife, reclaiming her SAW. She brushes off goo-ey ichor and bug bits, as she approaches the sphinctery doors with a disgusted groan. "Uuuuugh, can't believe we're going through more of these. Alright, fine..." She pokes at the door, only for it to open up to another egg chamber.

    "Oh, great. MORE eggs. WHat's next, the hive overlord coming to use us for food?" She's in a rather gripey mood today, but maybe she's just exhausted with this weird fuckin' place already. Buck up, Lexi, it's only gonna get weirder from here. She sees a MASSIVE crab thingy ahead, and opens fire just in time for a newly healed Hemlock to bust out a buff for the team. She feels...way, way faster. Instead of pondering how this works, the cyborg just opens fire, somehow firing even FASTER now as she lays down suppressing bursts of 5.56. "Appreciate it!" She calls to Hemlock, as she begins to charge the giant crab buggo. "GET SOME, UGLY!" She calls out, only stopping when Arthur proceeds to charge the beast directly. She begins to fire again after a moment, directing her fire more surgically now.

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     With the poison room behind them and hopefully not being a thing anytime soon, Sanary finishes putting the last bits of healing magic out for Hemlock and whomever needs a pick-me-up before checking her axe. "Ech... Gonna need to fix this up once we find one of those beacons." She mutters irritably, giving her weapon a few practice swings first.

     Her timing's quite good for once as the group comes across what looks like a... Breeding room? There's too many eggs to ignore, and the orange cat-size bugs have her readying some magical energy in her eye just in case. "I got your back, don't worry. I'll leave the investigation and fancier stuff to.. You know.

     Everyone else." Feeling that boost from Hemlock's music, Sanary bellows out a mighty roar and dashes right into the soldier's path!

     For once, however, she doesn't just take the attack head on. That boost to her reflexes actually gives her just enough confidence to try something a bit fancier: A sidestep! It's not a particularly elegant sidestep as it's more of a jerking hop to the side, but she manages to avoid getting gored in the attempt. She drags her axe along the creature's legs with both hands clutching the weapon, trying to rip them right off forcefully in tandem with Arthur's counterattack and Alexis' suppressfing fire!

Reiji Arisu has posed:
What kind of horrible insect-people are these? Rurufon was very clear about how these creatures- and those like them- are from all across the multiverse. Perhaps even from worlds utterly inhospitable to human life. But still, there's something unsettling about the strange arrangement of this hive-cluster. Where are they, even? If space and time are malleable in this place, then perhaps they're much closer to the heart of this structure than their path might have suggested.

Reiji makes a quiet sound of curiosity at the weird, cat-sized bugs skittering across the clutch of eggs. He has little more time to contemplate the situation before something enormous takes offense of their presence.

Slime oozes from around the exorcist's boot as he kicks off the moist ground, just narrowly dodging the creature's charge as a spell of swiftness is woven around his body. He nearly bounds off the far wall on his way back, ricocheting like a living bullet around the claustrophobic creche. "You're proably more right than you think," he says to Maaka as he comes back around with his electrified blade, driving it between the massive soldier's joints. "If what Rurufon said was at all accurate, then this place probably has a Lord we'll need to deal with, too."

Reiji twists the blade. Chirai erupts with coruscating, crackling arcs /within/ the beast's body-- are these bugs weak to lightning like most are? Time to find out.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
Wiping off her face takes a few moments with a handkerchief, Yuuki using both hands and the cloth rub away small points of tension - and a nonzero amount of buggy ichor. She nods as she walks, Arthur elucidating on the potentia of how the Multiverse Ruins Everything and is akin to putting antifreeze where the blinker fluid should go.

The second room seems similar to the first, with more eggs in the way - more mutant eggs. And a big... crab thing?

A /fast/, vicious crab thing, which spears Arthur on the tip and crashes its spiked arm into Yuuki on the backswing, sending her quite intentionally into the hive wall, where she meatily thunks and slides down, coughing and gacking as crimson spots appear on her clothes where the spikes penetrated.

She's down for the count before Hemlock's bardic music fills her with power - rising to a knee and throwing out a hand, a concussive cone of force booms out from her palm, across eggs, floor, and clipping the soldier too. She's conscientious of 'friendly' fire, which attenuates the effectiveness of conal murder, but in an RPG party, it's important to not Cone Your Own.

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    The part where the soldier insect smashes a tiny prey creature up against the wall and has it impaled is supposed to be the part where it wins. It even gets its big nasty clawed forefeet into the air and starts swinging them at Arthur. Having the boy pick it up and /throw/ it though, messes everything up completely, and its slashes go wide, clipping Sanary (after she'd just dodged too!) and Reiji on the attack. The surrounding area doesn't shake nearly as much as it should for a hive, which should ostensibly be anchored to a raised object, or buried in earth. It cracks the creature's malformed and apparently slightly diseased shell just fine though. Green ichor spills from its carapace and onto Arthur like a refreshing post-sports shower of gatorade.

    From there, it's a relatively straightforward process of hacking it to pieces. Its underside is softer and more susceptible to fully automatic NATO fire, puncturing it in three score places and drowning the floor in insectoid free-circulated fluids. Sanary hacks off two of its legs at a stroke, and Chirai cooks it from the inside out so fast and thoroughly that steam explodes out of the severed stumps. When Yuuki blasts it with her force cone, it flies pretty much limply, getting halfway across the room and smashing down on the swarm of workers that had just started to rally, crushing the bulk of them and sending the survivors scattering off further down the hatching ring, not to mention shattering most of the eggs into so much amniotic fluid.

    Looking around at the bug parts and sticky inner juices now painting puke-green and bile-brown shades all around the room like postmodern art, something does stand out on a spot check. It might have been more complicated to put together normally, but since Staren spent all that time screwing around by himself, mining out that blocked passage to a dead end, any of the violet door Elites who passed it on the way in can figure it out pretty easily: one of the creature's 'horns' wrenched from its body, still sticky and fibrous at its bottom end, looks pretty much exactly like the drawing on the wall. To an extent. The guy wasn't a great artist.

Hemlock (6320) has posed:
The warriors are able to handle the big horrible bug, even if the amniotic fluid splashes Hemlock and gets him drenched and disgusting in the process of his movements. He deftly moves his fiddle out of the way of the blast and onto his back, wiping his face off as he slowly moves over to the creature, moving to check it. "Hm. Theory. There's a mandible door in this room, and the mandible doors are probably our goal. The creatures can pass through them. We can't." He moves to try and drag one of the worker bodies that seems most intact, though he's not very strong, and it doesn't work very well.

"Let's try using the corpses as stand-ins to open the door. Perhaps it can detect the creatures and will open. Give me a hand." Hemlock says to anyone who can help him, because he's not going to get done anytime soon.

Reiji Arisu has posed:
Well! That is a cavalcade of new and unpleasant sights, sounds and scents. Reiji grimaces and slides his blade back into its sheath as the terrible puke-yellow ooze pools across the semi-organic ground. Maybe that insect was expecting something a little less... Overwhelming than a half-dozen elites. Reiji's not about to complain. "Seems to be a decent enough plan," he says to Hemlock, then moves to the still-steaming carcass. "I'm probably going to need a bit of help with this, though."

But, Reiji goes to lift it regardless. With a bit of effort, he should be able to haul the thing over to the odd mandible-door. Does it open? Is the requirement some kind of pheromone-based signal, or will the smoldering body of a soldier suffice?

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Sanary grits her teeth as she presses a hand against the gash on her side, channeling some healing magic into it to stem the flow of blood so as to not bleed all over the place too much. Infections are already bad enough, and they'd probably be worse in a place full of terrible insects like this! All the rapid fire healing is starting to take a toll on the healer, though, and she's a little more careful with her aim as she directs some healing eenrgy towards Arthur and Reiji afterwards.

     "Not too bad... Surprised this is what people face so early, though. No wonder there's so many dead around." She muses while stepping into the 'painted' room carefully, poking here and there with her axe while keeping it at the ready for anything that might try to stab someone again. She raises an eyebrow at the removed horn and glances over at the drawing, eventually letting out a confused noise as she looks between them several times.

     "... Is that what this mess means? HMm. Might as well give it a shot." Moving to join Hemlock and Reiji, Sanary assist in hoisting that body up as requested! She's not quite sure how to actually use it as intended, but following directions is easy enough.

     Said assistance may involve just whacking the corpse into the door at some point.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka lets her MG dangle, hoisting a body over her shoulder fireman's carry style. She's not too pleased about moving corpses about, or the smell for that matter. At least she has a helmet for that. "I'm not surprised. This is definitely the big leagues for dungeon crawling." She comments to Sanary, watching her lazily smash a corpse of her own against the door. "...uh..." She just looks around, maybe for some kind of seal she can rub her own bug corpse against. She's had experience using human remains like this, but bugs is a new one to her.

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur leaps onto his feet from the hold, shouting in triumph and aggressively flexing repeatedlty. "YEAH! YEEEEAAAAH!!" He pumps both hands in the air while numbers around him tally his experience gains. And then he's ready to move on! He shakes the awful gross fluids off of him, finishing with a dramatic flick that even somehow cleans it out of his hair. He's still BLEEDING though, and thankfully Sanary's got that covered. "Yo, THANKS homie." He says, presenting a pound to her, and then moving to join the group, easing local gravity so they have to strain less to hoist the awful thing.

    He still doesn't wanna touch it though. I mean, he's okay with monster corpses, sure. But that doesn't make it not still super, /super/ gross. "Yeah, this place DOESN'T FUCK AROUND with the STARTING HURTS, dog." He declares, keeping a bit of pressure on his bleeding torso. "We're headin' for the MIDDLE, though. Is this really a way to get OUTSIDE? FUCKED UP SPACE." He tries to analyze local space, pulling his analysis of the local folding to examine the contours of the potentially-sphereoid spatial warp they're inside. What can he tell specifically about its center? Anything? Or would they need to get closer?

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
Pulling herself up to her feet and dusting off her clothes - which mostly smears ichor around, instead of getting anything clean - Yuuki watches with great interest as Reiji and the others haul around a corpse to interact with the door.

"Maybe you can just... pull it off?" She asks the room, indicating the horn with a gesture of the hands that can mean one thing and also a number of other things.

"The tower was made for even physically weak people to accomplish it, so you probably don't need the whole thing." She notes, remembering the briefing Rurufon gave the group. "Then, as we move, perhaps... Arthur can use his Space Sense to triangulate any spatial errors, with Reiji and Maaka forming our front line, and Hemlock and Sanary in the middle? If it gets harder the deeper we push, we'd want a... marching order?"

Yuuki does not have enough handkerchiefs to clean off the guck but darn is she trying. "That's what I learned from..." Tabletop games and phone RPGs "... battle... experiences..."

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    Some experimentation happens. Pulling the little orange workers to the spiky door has no effect whatsoever. It seems they aren't even allowed in past this stratum, or at least not into main routes --it's quite probable they fit into various little crawlspaces-- which gives some idea as to what kind of caste system they must be dealing with (i.e. much more complicated than termites or wasps). Going around poking at all the walls seems like kind of a fruitless gesture at this point, considering how sturdy Staren had found the rubble when excavating, but Sanary's random poking with her axe actually causes an especially dark and sodden section of wall to creak and give slightly, indicating a secret structural weakness. It's in the opposite direction of the main door, however.

    Lugging the soldier corpse over to the big door does the trick, as expected. The odd jaw-spikes on the door even bioluminescence and let off a faint, audible tone as it approaches, intensifying as the distance shrinks. Getting it close to the door causes it to open, exactly as planned. Further experimentation yields the fact that just one of the odd, twisted spines seems to do the trick well enough, albeit it must be practically touching to work. The hive apparently doesn't keep track of the bugs themselves, but responds to certain organs in the bug castes. Pheromones? Magic?

    Obtained: 1x Fang Totem

    Speaking of which, opening that door puts those who choose to go further past it into another long, winding, sloping series of corridors, twisting at gross and unsettling angles, and forking over and over and over again into more side chambers. It could take a very long time to explore all of these, but it seems this Realm, one of the bottommost strata, has been challenged by plenty of humans (or other species that communicate with written language) before, and there are frequently trail markers scratched into, or painted on, the hive walls, adequately illustrating where the most (and most recent) challengers have gone. Surprisingly, there are no corpses in any of these halls. Not even skeletons lie scattered in the corridors between chambers, though the group is ambushed from the ceiling and walls on no less than four separate occasions: one through preexisting holes, and three through seemingly solid surfaces that burst open from the other side, leaving them surrounded and pounced on by purple drones.

    If Sanary (and/or anyone else) cares to hack away at the soft wall however, they find the answer why the halls are so clean. The thick, clay-like matter can be cloven through with sufficient effort to find a sort of tiny adjoining chamber; a sealed off pod next to the hatching area. All the surfaces are still damp and sticky, as if soaked with saliva, and haven't been fully hardened and petrified yet. The area is also littered wall to wall, and up to knee height in places, with bones, about half of which are human. They're the kind of white-grey that indicates they were picked, rather than rotted, clean, and have gathered dust for a while since, and they bear blatantly obvious fang marks. Fungus grows thick on the walls, and shows signs of being harvested as well. It's a food storage room, where both the insects and their cultivated fungus grow on the remains of dead challengers.

    They are meticulously organized and clean, at least, but it presents an exceedingly weighty and grim fact as hard, unrestrained punch to the gut: as the sun is to the ecosystem of Earth, challengers are to the Tower of Shadows. The steady influx of the greedy, the bold, and the desperate, is the first link in the food chain here. Rooting around for equipment the bugs obviously don't care about, scavengers will at least find all of the dead were lightly armed and/or physically unimpressive, which probably contributes to the stratification of floors here, but it is still a sobering indicator of how many are culled out right at the start.

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    Regardless, going forward, Yuuki's strategy is fairly sound, given the composition and number of Elites. Experienced, armed, organized, and numerous as they are, attrition happens, but not alarmingly so. Comparing it to a dungeon crawl feels more and more apt with time, though it is far too unnerving and faintly twisted to feel like a game. The very idea of a normal person creeping through these passages on tip toe, completely alone and armed with a handgun or a sword, increasingly seems like a bad joke. Survival horror at best. Unwinnable suicide at worst.

    Eventually, they pass what must be scores of hatching chambers on their way, before coming out to an 'outdoors' area. Outdoors in the sense that they are no longer in cramped corridors anyways. They step out onto a hard bridge of the same material as the previous walls (almost certainly chewed up matter with biological glue) that leads gradually upwards, and criss-crosses with dozens of others, serving as complicated catwalks over empty space. The whole thing is suspended over utter blackness, not unlike the central hub of the Tower, but that could very easily be because of this new area is still encapsulated in the larger perimeter of wherever the hive 'walls' are, and there are no glowing organisms anywhere here to light it up.

    Looking back, the bridge leading to the area they'd just come out of, reveals it to be a huge, semi-spherical 'pod' of hivemass, and peering ahead, every other bridge connects more of the same, suspending hundreds of 'buildings' made of hive in a gargantuan, complicated lattice. It's like the exact inverse of an ant colony --built, rather than excavated, not unlike the molds scientists make of empty ones. There is a general trend of the 'buildings' becoming larger as they go forward, and most of the paths angle inward, giving a good impression of there being a core somewhere further ahead and upwards, but there is also a constant, steady background sound of thrumming, papery wings, and to those especially sensitive, a kind of weak background radiation of something 'close enough' to magic, which doesn't seem entirely healthy.

    A message has been painted on the path right ahead of them: "The Queen's secret. I'm so close. But where are the others? I can't be the last one left. If they come here, they should meet me where Jacob told that joke. I dare not draw a map, or even describe it. I fear that they can read our language."

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     Arthur gets a pound from Sanary in return in-between bouts of corpse-versus-door. Of course he gets a pound. "I guess... Hnn. You think they'd let us back in with shovels or pickaxes or somethin' another time? I mean, if we're working here and we get back out, then... It's not like we wouldn't be coming back completely blind if we ended up here again."

     Yuuki's suggestion draws an intrigued noise from the healer, and she nods in approval after a few moments. "Got a good point there. I mean, I'm tough enough to fight in the front anyway, so..." She clears her throat and puffs herself up a bit, trying to look bigger and more intimidating for a moment before relenting. "... But that's not a bad plan. I'll focus on supporting everyone with Hemlock here, then. If anything comes too close to him..."

     She pats her axe, then gets back to work! She certainly finds it easier to focus on doing what she's best at while working from the middle of their formation rather than overcompensating on the front. Breaking through the wall is a simple matter with a few kicks to the wall and a bash with the back of her axe, and the implications of the Tower's food chain go right over her head.

     At first, anyway. It takes the healer a while, but she eventually does a double take once it starts making more sense. Sanary forces a more neutral expression as the pieces start to fit together, but it's still rather unnerving and enough to make it obvious she's forcing a poker face to hide her discomfort.

     The background maybe-magic has her fidgeting as well, although it's not entirely due in part to her eye reacting to it. Sanary starts to fidget a little more, scratching here and there at the growing discomfort. "Starting to get why the people that gave up did what they did. Not that I would, but... Can't blame 'em if they're weaker and alone."

     And then there's that message. She peers at it closely for several long moments, then glances around at the group of Elites. "... Hey. Any of you happen to be good at talking to bugs?"

Hemlock (6320) has posed:
Hm, one of the mandibles. That's good thinking, as Hemlock nods to Yuuki. "Clever. Seems this corpse is useless." He pushes the small one away, wiping his hands clean, and waiting for the others before moving through the doors, sticking to Yuuki's marching line. "The marching order's a classic adventuring strategy. You've learned well." He sticks to the middle as requested, keeping his hands free to grab a tool. When they're ambushed, he actually takes part in combat this time, drawing a long knife from his outfit and using it to help stab the creatures, whistling a frenetic tune to top off their buffs to keep them with that fast reaction speed. His knife skill isn't extraordinary, but it's capable of getting the job done, as he wipes ichor off the blade, though he has some new bruises and wounds to exchange for it.

Putting the knife back away, as they move through the hive, Hemlock's taking mental notes now, as he glances down into the darkness and around the area. The thrumming of the wings and the message on the path both get him to crouch down. "Something's ahead. I'm assuming it's the 'Queen' mentioned, probably the queen of the hive. Flight-capable, probably well-defended. If it has any children or workers with it, leave them to me. We've proven already that I can manipulate them. The fighters should focus on the 'Queen', using ranged attacks if possible. But I have to wonder...what is Jacob's joke? I wonder if it was near the skull. Skeleton jokes seem popular."

Hemlock rises back up to his feet, drawing the fiddle. "We should proceed." If the group does so, he keeps the haste effect up, so that they can have a faster reaction time if anything else tries to jump them. There's a quick reply to Sanary, though. "No need to talk. Can control."

Reiji Arisu has posed:
Look. There's the smart way to go about this, and then there's the way that everyone remembers ten years from today when they get back together for the first annual post-hell dimension reunion. Sure, hacking off a weird insect organ and using it to open a weird insect door might be more practical, but they couldn't exactly be sure /which/ bit was responsible for the thing opening up like it did.

Well. Whatever. They have a key now.

Though the question now is: Do they need to kill a higher caste for each successive door they need to pry open?

Reiji takes point as suggested-- which helps quite a bit when the party finds itself beset on multiple sides by creatures all too interested in turning them all into a whole pile of delicious, fresh meat. Karin and Chirai roaring with flame and lightning meets the swarms with the archfoes of any insect, flying or otherwise. Of course, being in the vanguard means that he's also the recipient of most of their aggression. He comes away with a few scrapes and bruises, a fresh gash across the shoulder and what might be a slightly cracked rib.

It probably would have been a lot worse, if it were not for the continuous bevy of enchantments reinforcing his strength and speed.

What they see beyond the swarm is... Not unexpected. Regrettable, reprehensible, but not unexpected. Reiji too many monster dens in his time.

He turns to Hemlock, quirking a brow at the bard's observations. "That's probably accurate, but I'm somewhat concerned about this 'secret' of hers," Reiji says, his fingers brushing against that enigmatic, crimson text. "This message is perhaps a little too specific to pick through, though. Stay on your toes."

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur's puzzledungeoneering mind processes this heavily. Nothing picked up on his analysis so far, at least nothing substantial, besides the fact that this is a /lot/ bigger than he should think a hive could be. And the constant background radiation may not be something he has the senses for, but his analysis can find hints of it. There's a core ahead, could that be the source? He can think of little else, and he's a bit worried.

    "THE QUEEN'S SECRET. So if the QUEEN is AHEAD, we gotta be eyes-out for a SECRET. Huh, could something in here keep a SECRET from DOUBLE R? I mean, I guess that homie's not ALL-SEEING around here. Think the QUEEN is technically a LORD? I mean, this tower draws from HELLA DIVERSE DIMENSIONS." Arthur theorizes as they go, rambling and chattering. Thankfully he doesn't look at what Sanary discovers, because it would make him absolutely /sick to his stomach/. His answer to Hemlock is at least more useful. "Well it wasn't the VIOLET DOOR, 'cause that one wasn't SOLVED, and you wouldn't GET UP IN THAT BIZ since it's ACID. So it was the OTHER DOOR, the WHITE CHALK ONE.

    He presses on, intending to head towards what looks like that core, like Hemlock is. Better check out what's up with this Queen, and hope the core is the source of this trouble.

Yuuki Kuran (518) has posed:
Yuuki smiles at Sanary gently, one of those patient ones that isn't Insulting In Its Patience. "That was the idea - the middle line is just as important as the vanguard! Intercepting threats and support go hand in hand. Like a--" Red Mage. A White Mage in any game they're allowed to use Hammers. "--Core part of any formation."

They continue on, deeper, into Mutant Ant Hell, finding bones of long-dead adventurers poorly equipped and weak. "Do you think there is a 'person' at the top of this heirarchy? The creatures having a queen that became one instead of continuing on, above? That Rurufon's words - the Tower sending 'fresh meat' their way - was both literal and figurative?"

This tasks Yuuki for a few seconds, before she shrugs. "Well, the air feels a little funny, but I can't put my finger on --." Arthur comes up with the same idea she had, during his ramblings. "-- Yes, you're right. If the Queen has a secret, then we should get it. I'm sure the Tower will self-correct for any problems we cause. Shouldn't the Queen being overcome be normal for climbing the tower? Maybe it's a new Queen that's causing the disruption even?"

She follows along after Hemlock and Arthur, keeping close to the pair, drawing out a small baton as she walks. "If we can't find the Queen's secret at the core, we can always double back."

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka drops her own corpse, letting the bug remains lay while she carries on with her light on again, replacing the ammo belt when she notices how it's running on empty before they're jumped by whatever lays ahead of them. The cyborg nods to Hemlock's words, carrying on as she begins to take a more middle of the party position, using her light to lead the group on. "Who do you suppose leaves these messages? Seems like an adventurer's dying words, to me." SHe remarks, as her light shines on the red writing scribbled on the wall.

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    Though the bridge lattice had seemed pretty simple at first, it swiftly becomes an absolute clusterfuck. Going straight ahead leads into another maze-like pod filled with eggs and ambushes, and the next leads into one largely filled with discarded molts (some of really concerning size) and the leeched remains of other, completely different looking Insects. The paths branch and fork incessantly, with individual pods having three to five different exits, and there are frequently tempting shortcuts of "jumping down 20 feet" to a precarious bridge beneath the current one. More often than not, little processions of purple drones can be seen carrying fresh dead (weird, inhuman creatures at least, for Arthur's sake) towards the center, and oddly, every so often they have little knicknacks and items of dubious use to even a human, never mind an insect, or even an insect queen.

    It also becomes increasingly apparent that the air isn't good for anyone here. Proceeding forward, as laborious and labyrinthine as it is, frequently beset by obnoxious ambushes from things crawling on the underside of bridges or dropping down from above, (thankfully no hive-wide alert) eventually makes that background radiation gradually intensify. Even for those without special senses, it starts to make one feel mildly nauseous, as if they'd eaten something that is starting to really disagree with them. It starts to result in making vision a little bleary and leaving a tinny ringing in the ears, like some sickly and unwholesome energy is radiating from the hive's center. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that all of the bugs are individually and uniquely mutated and malformed in subtly different ways.

    Eventually, puzzlesenses prove correct, as the group arrives at one more pod which has been entirely cleared out. All the eggs are either long hatched, or intentionally smashed, and judging by the number of insect bits and burn marks still remaining, it seems they've finally crossed paths with where the previous party came in, though no doubt 'the grey door' didn't lead to the exact same starting point for them. It also leads them to another door not unlike the horned one from before. This one is even larger, enough to drive a truck through --which is probably not a good sign-- and more distinctly artificial, covered in swirling designs and overlapping scales that almost look very strangely and primitively ornate.

    It also bristles with frankly revolting clusters of giant insect antennae all around its upper half, bobbing and twitching at the air currents stirred up by the Elites approaching, and unfortunately, the fang they've lugged with them doesn't seem to work. There are more secure areas ahead. If the queen indeed has a secret, it is being intelligently guarded, rather than primitively and instinctively kept in the center.

    From there, there are two more options to continue, but neither seem especially promising. The sheer scale of the area starts to sink in, illuminating why it's possible at all to leave and come back: it'd take several days to map it out in its entirety. One path leads on a steep decline towards the first reminder of the Tower they've seen this whole time, in the shape of the distant glint of a green glowing orb on a white plinth, identical to the one outside. The opposite path leads to what looks enough like a wall, specifically into a 'cave' of some sort in that wall.

    The thrumming of wings is strong from that direction, and no more than a minute passes before several squadrons of motorbike-sized flying creatures roar overhead, each of them sickly yellow, with three completely separate pairs of wings, and stranger still than what they've seen so far. However, despite rather alarming stingers and jaws, they don't even notice the group, never mind swoop to attack. What can be found in that direction, as opposed to a green beacon, is twofold.

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    One is a small pile of personal belongings, largely constituting empty food pouches, a water canteen, spend casings and broken arrows, and the hastily scattered remains of a barely-started fire, but with the notable inclusion of a small pile of those odd, squareish, seemingly useless stamped metal bits Arthur had yoinked from the creatures outside the Tower itself, with their strange designs and serials, as well as what can only really be described as a white 'chess piece' the size of a pill bottle. It looks like it has a lid of some sort, possibly being a container, but it serves no obvious function. It's difficult to attribute to either the hive or the adventurers; it looks closer to the organic white substance of the Tower's basic infrastructure itself.

    The second thing is a hastily scribbled map on partially blotted parchment (rather than in blood-like liquid smeared on a wall), and a page of calculations and coordinates. Scrawled in the corner is the following:

    "Whatever this place expects of a victor, it is far more than any mortal man is capable of. If even death is no escape, then I will try everything else. We've examined the insects as much as we can, both their dead and their strange hive magic. Something here, in this Tower, has changed them from what they were, but I believe I can guess the original conditions of the world from which they came. If that world too is unified, then there may be a way out. I know already that a soul becomes inextricably tied to the Tower once it has been separated, but I believe that until then, this 'Abyss' the natives keep talking about, incorporates aspects of their world after it finds it."

    "I theorize it 'pulls in' the requisite conditions of their realm for a being from that world to function at full potential, and in so doing, any magical or technological attempt to 'go home' fails; the Tower /is/ home. As long as /my/ world of origin hasn't been found yet, leaping into the Abyss should be escape and not death. I will end up in /their/ world, but certainly theirs has a Warpgate? If I'm wrong, I will die. If the Tower is aware of my world, I am trapped. If their world is not unified, I am trapped and will die. Considering there are no other options, I will take the risk. I'll leave this here to warn others: if you find this, take the plunge as soon as you can."

    It's frantic, eccentric, concerning, and deeply worrying writing, but at the same time, oddly positive. Were they stumbling upon this written by a perfect stranger, the group would be left to contemplate his fear and despair and wonder at his fate. Knowing already that it worked, however, is a welcome moment of relief.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:

    The maze ahead is a nightmare, leaving Maaka to go into close-quarters with knife and pistol while the group presses onward. Stabbing and shooting, she frantically tries to keep the bugs at bay, feeling stabs and bites all over her body, penetrating body armor not meant for these things, leaving her bleeding like a stuck pig after a while, and the party is led to the pod. "....ggggnnnng, Sanary, little help might be nice." She says, breath ragged and her helmet gone once more, mostly for breath. Maaka is gonna need a serious breath of fresh air and a shower after this.

    That has to wait, as Maaka jumps alertly and aims her pistol at the flying bugs before noticing they're not really attacking. She reloads slowly, noticing the scribblings on the walls. She takes note of them, recording the messages thanks to her cybernetic eyes linked to the neural mods in her brain. (Woo future tech.)

    "Uhhh, well...that's a worrying message. Should I be hopeful or wondering if there's a hidden portal someplace for us right now?" She asks aloud.

Hemlock (6320) has posed:
As the group proceeds forward, still defending themselves, badly bruised and bloody, Hemlock still wielding that knife and whistling, he starts covering his mouth a bit, shaking his head. "This place is bad. We'll need to get out of here soon." As they progress, he pauses when the eggs have been smashed, and the signs of adventurers have been here. "We're getting closer." The bard looks up at the antennae, turning back quickly from the repulsiveness, before the bugs come out. He moves to draw his fiddle...and they ignore the group. "Hm. They didn't notice us? Interesting."

When they get into the new direction with actual leads, Hemlock moves over to the personal belongings, scanning over them. Food, casings, metal bits, water canteen. The investigator lifts up a food pouch and turns it to see if any leftover bits of food might seem rotten, take a metal bit to analyze it and then pocket, and then focus on the white 'chess piece'.

Noticing it's probably a container, Hemlock moves to open the chess piece, and investigate it. Try and examine lines to see how to open it, and then look inside to see what's in there, or what /was/ in there if it's empty. He'll spend a bit handling this, before taking it as well and moving to the note. "Hm. So that's how he got out of here." The journalist writes down the contents on the wall, focusing primarily on the words (if the calculations are too long, he skips them). "This place is truly fascinating. If it's this big...you can only imagine what it's like in the deeper floors. I'm /very/ curious."

Sanary Rondel has posed:
     With her ego sufficiently massaged by Yuuki's reassurance, Sanary once again focuses her efforts on helping the group get past the next several ambushes... Not necessarily unscathed, but properly bolstered. Wounds are mended, targets are pointed out, and particularly crafty bugs get big chops to the face for their trouble.

     "Even an overseer can't see everything. Er. MAybe. I mean, that Rurufon wouldn't need us to look into this at all if she could, right?" She guesses, pauses, then strokes her chin slowly. "Maybe this Queen's in one of those blind spots, too."

     As they find the map and long note, Sanary squints over Hemlock's shoulder with a baffled look on her face. "You.. Figured it out? Ehm... I dunno. What about that note from before? The one that said the bugs might know our language? Maybe it's a... Trap to get us to jump into one their food holes?"

     She doesn't sound all that convinced of that explanation herself, but at least she's not hurling herself into any holes. Maaka gets some healing to stymie her injuries, but the healer's looking even more worn down than before. Even she's got limits! "Although... Geh. At this rate, we might run out of steam before we find any of those beacons."

Arthur Lowell has posed:
    Arthur has screamed and beaten and shouted and smashed his way to the core of the hive on the wave of healing, seeking out the secret of the Queen. And when they do find the queen... Ehhhh... Arthur doesn't quite lose his momentum, per se, but right now his absurd behaviors aren't quite so absurd that they lead him into a fight with the Queen when it looks like maybe that should be done... Another time.

    Then they head off to the side, and look over the gear. There's no corpse here, thank goodness, and so Arthur can finally join in! By running near to it and then opening up an inventory menu, it seems. When he gets around to reading the theorizations, the calculations, the observations, the evidence of what was done... "GOD DAMN, homie had some GUTS. Get his soul straight BOUND UP in the TOWER SHIT, dive into INSECT HELL, or fuckin' SUICIDE OFF THE BRIDGES, there was NO OUTCOME on this that wasn't HARSH DANGER." He whistles in an impressed way.

    If the Queen's okay, then there must be some Abyss accessible from here. "Well, I know what I'm doing. See you dudes on the OTHER SIDE!" He starts pumping a series of flexing and triumphant positions. "HOOOOOOHHHHH YEEEEAAAAAH!" And then he just runs, shouting, out the chamber, over to the bridges outside, and leaps over the edge, trusting that the Tower of the Abyss hasn't linked up a Billious Slick type world, and also trusting that he can fight a LOT of bugs. He'll of course fully analyze the spatial warp as he passes /through/ it, using his Mage abilities!

    He'll meet up with Rurufon later. Yes.

Rurufon (6316) has posed:
    Hemlock examines the chess piece. It has a little corkscrew method and a simple lock, almost like a childproof cap, to prevent being accidentally opened, but it can essentially be opened by anything with manipulating graspers. When he does open it, a little puff of faint, ethereal mist comes out of it, which tingles coldly on his skin, and lets out an odd, rising 'sigh'. It does absolutely nothing else, dissipating into the air. It feels like an anticlimax. Like something went wrong. Otherwise, the food crumbs are recent enough to be only mildly stale, so it certainly didn't belong to one of the piles of bones, neatly tucked away in chambers that are sealed when they're full and spent.

    When they start paging through stuff and playing with weird extradimensional knicknacks, they are joined by the tower administrator. It actually isn't clear when she got there, and for those who haven't seen her Cheshire Cat through space before, how. As soon as Hemlock has finished with his white stone chess piece though, she reaches over his shoulder and plucks it out of his hands, turning it over for a couple of seconds, and then saying only "Interesting."

    Inconveniently, she's a little too late to speak to Arthur before he hurls himself off the ledge and into the seemingly infinite blackness below, and so she only looks over the edge and watches his long, long descent, until some arbitrary point at which she decides to stop, which so happens coincides exactly with the moment Arthur feels a /massive/ spatial warp happen, and ends up tumbling into the darkened beneath of a ruined spire pretty damn similar to the one on that unified Earth, albeit his surroundings are entirely alien and strange, covered in chittering weeds, glowing fungi, bug molts, greenish fluid, and other such things, instead of tree roots and grass and water and stone totems. It's almost definitely the same sort of crumbled ruin, but in a completely different world. Just like the Earth they'd entered the Tower of Shadows from, this one he can trivially space-teleport around/out of.

    Rurufon, sensing his disappearance from the Abyss, seems to have made up her mind. She only spares a moment to snatch up the papers and read through them, reading with a steely gaze, before responding with "I see." She then turns to the group that remains, and says "I owe you a little for your efforts in expediently identifying the issue. Perhaps. You are free to go. However, surrender all items you have collected within the Tower of Shadows thusfar. I will hold them on your . . . account, until a later date. There is some research I must do, and some modifications that must be made to the Shadow Program." She gestures towards the Abyss Arthur had just jumped into. "No doubt, I will be seeing you again. Congratulations on getting this far, at least. You have proven you aren't pathetically weak."

Hemlock (6320) has posed:
Hemlock only blinks owlishly as the chess piece is taken out of his hands, turning away from Rurufon. "I see. So demon queens are capable of teleportation and like to steal your stuff. I should have known." He mutters to himself, as he reaches for the metal piece in his pocket to hand to her. "Here." And then, once that's done, he'll move to leave the Tower.

Alexis Maaka (571) has posed:
    Maaka only has bug juice to call on, as she wipes herself clean. THANKFULLY Sanary has done some heals, so she's not as beat-up as before. Of course, she has very little to really offer up to Rurufon, as such she leaves the tower soon as Hemlock does. She also watches Arthur fall, and siiiiiiiighs tiredly. "That man is gonna be the death of us all one day."